On Being and Learning Again

I’ve felt… off-balanced lately. A little lost, a little weary and wary. Occasionally, like most folks, darkness comes in and you cannot help but question why it’s there and who causes it.

And while it’s scary, I’m lucky. I’ve seen the other side of darkness enough to know that “Easter will come,” things will brighten. I have family and friends who love me and make me laugh, a job I cannot help but find joy in, a partner who holds my hand the whole time and says, “I got you. It’s okay. We’ll be okay.”

Last night, and in the past few weeks, I have been struggling with the concept of “Enough.” In the NPO or education world– it often feels like I don’t do enough for the people in my life– my students, family, friends. Sometimes I feel like I’m too scared to take on the big challenges because I have this nagging need to take care of myself and do things that make me happy too.

So, on a whim, I found out that Fr. Greg Boyle, one of my favorite writers, priests, human beings, had been interviewed by On Being, one of my favorite podcasts.

I’ve read and listened to so much of Fr. Boyle, and what he shared wasn’t necessarily new to me, but just hearing it reframed again was so essential– I was immediately snapped back to myself. I know what I need to be doing. I know it will take time to get there. I know I must be eager, yet patient in God’s timeline.

I think, sometimes, we want to glance over reflections or lessons we think we’ve “already learned.” Yesterday, I didn’t want to reflect on body image because I thought, Well, I’ve written about that before, shouldn’t I know better?

We are so quick to forget our own flawed perfection means sometimes the lessons need to be restudied and relearned to gain a new, revolutionary potency in our minds. It doesn’t mean we’re silly, merely that we have the fantastically human ability to form and reform new and better connections with things as we grow.

So, with a renewed heart for the work and what it looks like for me, I’m coming out on the other side.

I highly recommend the linked podcast (I always choose the unedited version), and a few favorite tidbits below:

On perceptions of the communities we serve:

So you see how they love one another or there is nobody in need in this community, for example. But my favorite one is — it leaped off the page to me — and it says, “And awe came upon everyone.” So that the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship. And so that means the decided movement towards awe and giant steps away from judgment.

So how can we seek really a compassion that can stand in awe at what people have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it?

On doing the work:

Question: …what more can I do other than shrugging my shoulders and writing a check?

Fr. Boyle:  Well, don’t stop writing the checks!… but we must obliterate the illusion that we’re separate…How do we dismantle the barriers that exclude? How de we dedicate ourselves, in our own way… how do you participate in the birth of a new inclusion, where nobody is left out?

And that takes humility! …Humility asks the poor on the margins, “What do you need? How can I help?” 

Hubris says: “here’s what your problem is and here’s how you fix yourself.”

On mutuality in “service”:

I’m not the great healer and that gang member over there is in need of my exquisite healing. The truth is, it’s mutual and that, as much as we are called to bridge the distance that exists between us, we have to acknowledge that there’s a distance even in service. A service provider, you’re the service recipient and you want to bridge even that so that you can get to this place of utter mutuality. And I think that’s where the place of delight is, that I’ve learned everything of value really in the last 25 years from precisely the people who you think are on the receiving end of my gifts and talent and wisdom, but quite the opposite. It’s mutual.

On the work as Christ did it: 

I haven’t found anything that’s brought me more life or joy than standing with Jesus, but also with the particularity of standing in the lowly place, with the easily despised and the readily left out, and with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop, and with the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.

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